ISA CEO Conference: Experiment, Be Humble, Learn & Re-Learn, Advises Sunil Kataria, Godrej
Kataria, CEO – India & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Limited, and Chairman, The Indian Society of Advertisers talks about the challenges and opportunities of the connected world
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"Connectedness and digital transformation that's happening across every sphere of businesses is a great opportunity, but it is also posing a number of challenges and paradoxes," says Sunil Kataria, CEO – India & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Limited (GCPL), and Chairman, The Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA). He says emerging businesses that are driven by technology and connectedness and non-technology businesses are both facing new challenges in this connected world. "New businesses face a challenge of deeply understanding the consumer triggers and barriers to ensure quick adoption of their platform and then ensuring delight in fulfillment, while traditional non-tech businesses are grappling to understand the transformation that connectedness is creating to not only consumer behaviour and fulfillment, but to the larger organisational model itself," he says.
In an exclusive interview with exchange4media, Kataria talks about the paradox of the connected world and the transformational challenges and opportunities that it is offering for businesses and CEOs. Edited Excerpts:
The ISA, along with exchange4media, is set to host the second edition of the ISA CEO Conference. What is the prime focus of the conference?
ISA CEO Conference is a forum where we try to get the corner office perspective on a leading theme that is currently resonating in the corporate world. In the first edition, we had discussed the theme of Navigating VUCA. As we sought to bring together the CEOs from a cross-section of industries for this edition, the theme that struck us was the Connectedness Paradox. That's because the connectedness and digital transformation that's happening across every sphere of businesses is a great opportunity, but it is also posing a number of challenges and paradoxes.
The whole purpose of this conference is to get the people who are running organisations across diverse industries like FMCG, broadcasters, agencies, e-commerce and publishers, on one platform and to hear their perspectives on what are the challenges they are experiencing as a result of this connectedness and what are they doing to convert these into opportunities.
So, what is the connectedness paradox and what can delegates expect to learn and gain from the day-long conference?
Two big evolutions are happening as a result of connectedness in the business world.
One evolution, we are witnessing is the emergence of completely new technology-centered businesses like Ecommerce, OTT, cab aggregators, etc which didn’t exist or were unimaginable even five years ago. These new businesses have been built around the core of connectedness, but they still face a challenge of deeply understanding the consumer triggers and barriers to ensure quick adoption of their platform and then ensuring delight in fulfillment.
On the other hand, are non-technology businesses like traditional FMCG, automobiles, durables etc which are built around a strong understanding of consumer behaviour and robust fulfillment channels. They are grappling to understand the transformation that connectedness is creating to not only consumer behaviour and fulfillment, but to the larger organisational model itself.
We have CEOs from both these sets of organisations in this conference and the delegates would be able to get learnings across this spectrum.
One thing is clear, the connected world is here to stay and organisations and businesses which learn to ride with it faster will succeed.
What are the challenges of being a CEO in this interconnected yet paradoxically disconnected world?
There are three big challenges of being a CEO in this connected world. Now there is a possibility of accessing a large meaningful data pool from both within the organisation and outside the organisation which can provide disruptive insights. How to harvest this data and build the capability to leverage it is a very big challenge.
Second, connectedness is leading to breakdown of several entry barriers, and legacy competitive advantages while also changing the consumer adoption journey. Hence, it is critical to redefine your competitive construct as well as upgrade the ability to capture the consumer mindspace along the new path.
Lastly, the above two challenges mean that organisation structures, processes and culture would need to adapt itself around the reality and impact of a new connected world. This is the most transformational task that faces a CEO today.
What are the opportunities, on the other hand?
The biggest opportunity is that large and rigid market models are giving way to micro and dynamic models. You can actually break up your business into micro units and huge opportunities can emerge from this across every function. For example, earlier, if we wanted to sell a product to a consumer living in Tamil Nadu, we would think of Tamil Nadu as a microcosm and the entire business model from demand creation to fulfillment will be built around the state of Tamil Nadu as a whole. But today, if we choose to reach to Tamil consumer, the market unit can shift from only the state of TN to other microclusters of Tamil speaking people in say, Bengaluru or Delhi. There are means to reach out to those microclusters of consumers through the connected world and also to service and fulfill them very sharply on a small scale. This is a multiplier opportunity, but it also comes with crazy complexity for the businesses which are used to a rigid and legacy model. And that's the paradox that one has to learn to manage and win.
What is your biggest fear as a CEO?
Every successful organisation has its own winning formula, and at the root of this formula is the organisation culture, the structures, and capabilities of the people. My biggest fear is not in changing the “hard” structures and processes, but how fast can I change the “softer” part of proven mental models of success in people’s minds and also their capabilities so as to stay ahead of the dynamic changes and leverage the huge opportunity.
Instead of saying 'Who moved my cheese', how do you make people start identifying consistently that the cheese is moving and start moving along with the new cheese.
And how do you overcome your fear?
The best way to overcome the fear is to act, to jump in and start experimenting. Because you can only learn it by being in it. The connected model is about inbuilt flux and fluidity and one has to build a culture of experimenting, learning and re-learning, and then transferring that knowledge across the organisation. The experiments can be micro, they need to be agile and they need not cost much. The whole thing is to act fast, to fail or succeed fast, and then, transfer the learning faster.
What is your advice to budding executives who want to be CEOs some day?
The first thing is that we are living in a revolutionary time and all of us should be thankful and excited that we've got this great opportunity to be part of it. The second is, to soak yourself into this transformation as a consumer first and understand everything from this perspective. And the third advice is to experiment, be humble, learn and re-learn.
Finally, as chairman of ISA, how do you see its role evolving, going forward?
The primary task that we have set for ourselves is to make ISA future ready for the connected world, so that it services the emerging needs of advertisers and continues to be an active guiding body of advertisers in this new transformative eco-system.
To this end, we have put together a task force comprising of members from the board as well as our media committee. This task force has already done a study and benchmarking of best in class practices with our counterparts in other countries in Europe and Asia. We are in the middle of crafting a new vision for a future-ready ISA and will soon take it forward across our members and then structure ourselves accordingly to bring this vision to life.
ISA would also be working with multiple industry bodies and experts to help create a unified media measurement system that captures the evolving connected media space in a holistic manner.
Lastly, the ISA has been playing a leading and decisive role in taking forward the advertisers' perspectives across the industry ecosystem and will continue to work collaboratively with other industry bodies such as AAAI, IBF, INS, MRSI, and BARC.